Dear Advocate Magazine,
I am deeply disappointed to learn that you chose Pope Francis as person of the year. Michaelangelo Signorile already condemned the decision, citing Pope Francis' homophobic past and Catholic homophobia in general, but, with all due respect to Mr. Signorile, he didn't go far enough. I am disappointed for a couple of more reasons:
1. It erases the hard work of queer activists, scholars, writers, artists, and even icons who actually live queer experiences, and/or try to better the world without the caveat of finding Christ. In the article explaining the choice, you provided a list of nine others who were actually queer or actively did things to better the lives of all people. Literally any of the nine finalists could have been a better choice. Hell, any of the Out 100 are better choices for Person of the Year than the pope. Because they all have done something more than say, "If a person is gay and seeks the lord with good will, who am I to judge?" They have all done more than posture at overdue and vaguely progressive gay acceptance.
On the subject of actually doing something, to, say, advocate for anyone or even be an activist for a cause, let's look quickly to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary to define both "activism" and "advocate":
Activism: Noun, a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue
Advocate: Noun, 1.a person who argues for or supports a cause or policy 2. a person who works for a cause or group 3. a person who argues for the cause of another person in a court of law
Every definition of both "activism" and "advocate" requires intentional work in the service of a goal. The pope is neither activist nor advocate; he might not be an ex-Hitler-youth who abdicated his position because of failing health or internal scandal like his predecessor, but giving an opinion that agrees with yours as a progressive Catholic is not even an action. It's just words (meaningless words at that, but we'll get to that later).
Worse, this choice, cover, and subsequent article explaining them all contribute to the idea that someone making progress from a conservative position constitutes "activism," or even "advocating." It's not. Great for us that many conservatives are realizing that it is no longer acceptable to hold anti-gay stances publicly and have a career, but there are so many wonderful queer people who actually work hard for progressive change that the Pope is now reaping the benefits from.The Advocate's person of the year last year was Tammy Baldwin. An openly lesbian senator from Wisconsin Baldwin has done, and continues to do things for women's rights, LGBT Rights, and access to healthcare that are inspiring. The things that she does (y'know, like make laws that give people access to health care or abortion or domestic partner benefits) take time -- and effort! All the pope did was give an opinion from a position of visibility. And if you want to go with that as criteria for Person of the Year, let's give it to Angelina Jolie, to Russell Brand, to Chelsea Manning. They at least care about human rights for all humans.
2. This is just misleading, pernicious journalism -- intentional or not. Context matters, Advocate; that quote pasted on the cover ("If a person is gay and seeks the lord with good will, who am I to judge?") refers to gay priests. Gay priests have always been a part of the Catholic church because their sexuality becomes neutralized when they take a vow of abstinence because abstinence means not lying with any other men and therefore no sinful acts; no need to hate a sinner who doesn't sin, right? It means literally nothing that Pope Francis accepts the idea of gay priests because he merely reiterated a rule from Catechism which dictates that homosexual priests who give up their sex lives are to be respected like any other priest. It's either suspicious or lazy that this statement gets twisted into any sort of pro-gay, or even progressive stance. Granted, there's some major queer shame at play here as the article lauds Pope Francis for promoting of civil unions at "the lesser of two evils" secretly within the Catholic church. It then interprets thinking of same-sex unions as possible but evil as"progress," which is absurd and horrifying.
Furthermore, talking about the Catholic Church's homophobia in the '80s without acknowledging its evil role in the AIDS crisis is skewed, bleached journalism. So here's a fact that was left out of the article: Cardinal Joseph O'Connor rescinded the Catholic Church's temporary exemption for condom-use as a means to prevent HIV transmission during the AIDS crisis resulting in the ACT UP Action "STOP THE CHURCH" at Saint Patrick's Cathedral on Dec. 10, 1989. Unfortunately John Paul II was very conservative on this issue, as was the Catholic Church at the time, as you reminded us in the article with the '87 "Rat letter." Funny how in just under 30 years, we can go from "intrinsically evil," deserving AIDS as God's punishment for homosexuality, to "acceptable as long as there's no sodomy." Ah, progress.
John Paul II and Francis are not the same pope, but it is impossible to forget 100 years of contempt, violence, and we must acknowledge, death, just because the pope is a little bit better at PR than his predecessor. Contrary to what the article asks, we cannot any longer allow straight people who have any sort of power to dictate our worth as queer people according to various arbitrary, caveated rules: if they seek the lord, if they don't make trouble, if they love in the right way, if they are straight-acting.
I'd like to end on an optimistic note with a caveat: Maybe Pope Francis' supposed tolerance will result in less homophobia and violence against queer people, and if so, great. But that is a big, wobbly maybe. There are already so many people working hard for the rights and lives of queer people who are not maybes. They deserve our attention, congratulations, and gratitude. Please think of this the next time you choose someone as person of the year. Thank you for your time.